Every week, the experts of FOX NFL Sunday reveal their observations and opinions as they prepare for football’s top-rated pregame telecast — seen each Sunday at noon ET/9 a.m. PT.
We’ll share some of the highlights from Curt, Terry, Howie, Jimmy and Michael grabbed from their weekly conference call with insider John Czarnecki.
Czar: Like the AFC West, the NFC South is really tight at the top. Who do you like in the Bucs-Saints rematch this Sunday?
Michael Strahan: I still think the Saints are better than the Bucs. Even though they have been up and down, the Saints just have to be a little more consistent in the sense that I think they have to have more faith in what they can do. I still look at the Bucs as a younger team still trying to find their way. The Saints are just a better overall team.
Jimmy Johnson: Not having LeGarrette Blount for a couple games has hurt the Bucs, but Josh Freeman has become an inconsistent player in my eyes. He has not had a good year.
Terry Bradshaw: But when the Bucs beat them a couple weeks ago, Freeman was awesome. Two touchdown passes and no picks. It was one of his two 300-yard passing games in his career. The big key with the Saints is that they aren’t forcing turnovers on defense like they did during their Super Bowl season.
Howie Long: If you are in New Orleans and you look down, there is Tampa Bay. The Bucs are the NFL’s youngest team at 25 years old across the board. The Bucs invested heavily in their defensive front and they won’t be disappearing from view for a long, long time. I think Freeman has a chance to be great and Atlanta with Matt Ryan isn’t going anywhere and now Cam Newton has come onto the scene in a big-time way. Suddenly, this division is very, very good. And it should be for a long time.
Czar: We’re at the halfway mark of the season. Is there anything that stands out?
HL: The one aspect heading into the season was that we all thought some of these new head coaches were going to struggle without the offseason, and how would these young quarterbacks do? Well, for the most part the quarterbacks have been pretty amazing.
TB: Some of the new coaches have struggled, like John Fox in Denver and Ron Rivera in Carolina, but Jim Harbaugh has the 49ers in first place and they look like a playoff team. At the rate they are going, they could clinch the NFC West by Thanksgiving. Andy Dalton and Cam Newton have been sensational at quarterback, and even Christian Ponder shows a lot of promise in Minnesota. This might be one of the best quarterback classes in a long, long time. It’s kind of special that rookies can come into this league and play so well.
Czar: Everybody thinks the Cowboys will bounce back and beat Seattle on Sunday. But the Eagles made them look pretty bad last Sunday night.
JJ: Well, Andy Reid has shown this before. The Eagles were extremely prepared for all those blitzes that Rob Ryan and Cowboys threw at Michael Vick. Dallas couldn’t do anything against them. Every time they ran a blitz, the Eagles were ready for it. LeSean McCoy also had a great ballgame. They couldn’t stop him or tackle him. The Eagles got on a roll and once a team gets on a roll like that there’s no way to turn it around. I mean, it was 24-0 early in the second quarter.
TB: The Cowboys still have a long way to go. Yes, they beat the 49ers, but they have struggled against all the other good teams that they’ve played. I still can’t figure out what they are doing on offense. But that game got ugly fast and the Cowboys didn’t respond right away, either.
JJ: But that can happen in the NFL. The Eagles had two weeks to prepare and Reid is now 13-0 after the bye week. I mean, a lopsided win in the NFL can be truly misleading. Those two teams could play again in Dallas in two weeks or so and the Cowboys could win. I’ve always believed that once a team gets on a roll like that, especially at home, a night ballgame and with the crowd all pumped up, the score simply gets out of control. Now, I’m not giving excuses for Dallas because they do have problems. I’m just saying that in the NFL those things happen.
TB: The rematch is on Christmas Eve.
Czar: Does anybody think that San Diego has a chance hosting the unbeaten Packers on Sunday?
MS: All I know is if San Diego hadn’t fumbled that snap and kicked that field goal I would have been 3-1 with my picks last week. What was so funny, I was ready to text Howie and Jimmy and tell you both that I was having a special day when they were driving down the field for the winning field goal.
TB: Philip Rivers not having his hands right for that snap doesn’t make any sense. I know the Chargers are really beat up and have so many guys not practicing that it has thrown Rivers and the passing game off. Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates have been hurting all year and Ryan Mathews simply can’t stay healthy in games. I don’t know how they stop the Packers because nobody else has. Aaron Rodgers is having an MVP season.